Ant diversity marks restoration progress
When it comes to restoring grasslands, ecologists may have another way to evaluate their progress—ants.
South Dakota State University graduate student Laura Winkler collects specimens to determine the diversity of ant populations in restored grasslands in eastern South Dakota. Her research will help scientists track the progress of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services restoration efforts.
The more diverse the ant population, the closer a restored section of grassland is to its original state, according to Laura Winkler, who recently completed her master’s degree in plant science, specializing in entomology, at South Dakota State University. When it comes to native grasslands, ants are “ecosystem engineers.”
Ecological role of ants
Ants play many ecological roles, Winkler explained. “They aerate the soil, cycle nutrients and play a role in plant defense and seed dispersal. Ants move more soil than earthworms, plus they are food for lots of reptiles and birds.”
Some ant species support colonies of plant-feeding insects, such as aphids or plant hoppers, even protecting them from predators. “It’s like having dairy cattle,” Winkler said. Through this technique, the ants consume the sugar-rich honey dew the aphids secrete, much as humans use cow’s milk. When the ants are in need of protein, they simply eat the aphids.
Ants also distribute organic matter by moving dead insects into the colonies and their dead nest mates away from the colonies, Winkler added.
Comparing restored, undisturbed grasslands
Winkler compared tracts of restored grasslands to undisturbed ones at three sites in eastern South Dakota--Sioux Prairie in Minnehaha County, Oak Lake Field Station in Brookings County, and Spirit Mound in Clay County. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the restored areas, while the undisturbed area at Sioux Prairie is managed by the Nature Conservancy, Oak Lake by SDSU and Spirit Mound by the S.D. Game, Fish and Parks Department.
Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, she began working with ants as an undergraduate at Iowa State University focusing on how burning and grazing affect species diversity. Her SDSU graduate research assistantship on ant biodiversity and natural history was funded through the Meierhenry Fellowship. Her research adviser was entomologist Paul J. Johnson, professor of plant science.
Variation with age
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sites that had once been crop or pasture land were restored anywhere from one to four years ago, according to Winkler. This involved taking the areas down to the bare ground and then seeding native grasses. Winkler used data from multiple sites taken over a one-year period.
As expected, the younger sites had fewer ant species, with the numbers and diversity increasing over time. The restoration areas at age 1 had seven different species, while at age 2, the number had increased to nine and by age 3 to 10 species, Winkler reported. She expected the fourth year restorations to be even closer to the 17 species present in the undisturbed remnants, but what she saw was a slight decrease to eight species.
“The drought last year and then a wet spring also affects that vegetation, what’s going to survive and how many of the ants are out foraging,” Winkler pointed out.
She suspects that management techniques may also have played a role. “Some sites may have been burned more frequently,” she noted, to control weeds.
“We’ve got a sneak peek of what can happen,” Winkler said, but more long-term research is needed. Based on other research, she anticipates that the restored areas should peak in terms of species diversity within seven to eight years.
Winkler also looked at how these ant species function. The younger restorations areas tend to have ants that are generalists who can go anywhere, but the older restorations tend to have more specialists, such as soil-dwelling ants, who are more particular about where they live, Winkler explained. The more dominant specialists push out some of the generalists.
“You’ll have ants everywhere,” she pointed out, but the greater the diversity, the more niches are being filled, and the more successful the restoration effort.
About South Dakota State University
Founded in 1881, South Dakota State University is the state’s Morrill Act land-grant institution as well as its largest, most comprehensive school of higher education. SDSU confers degrees from eight different colleges representing more than 175 majors, minors and specializations. The institution also offers 29 master’s degree programs, 13 Ph.D. and two professional programs.
The work of the university is carried out on a residential campus in Brookings, at sites in Sioux Falls, Pierre and Rapid City, and through Cooperative Extension offices and Agricultural Experiment Station research sites across the state.
Christie Delfanian | newswise
Endangered corals smothered by sponges on overfished Caribbean reefs
28.04.2015 | PeerJ
Traffic emissions may pollute 1 in 3 Canadian homes
22.04.2015 | University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering
Scientists from Nepal, Switzerland and Germany was now able to show how erosion processes caused by the monsoon are mirrored in the sediment load of a river crossing the Himalaya.
In these days, it was again tragically demonstrated that the Himalayas are one of the most active geodynamic regions of the world. Landslides belong to the...
A world-class prime systems integrator and electronic systems provider known for its rapid, innovative, and agile technology solutions, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is currently developing a new space transportation system called the Dream Chaser.
The ultimate aim is to construct a multi-mission-capable space utility vehicle, while accelerating the overall development process for this critical capability...
Today, textiles are used for more than just clothes or bags – they are high tech materials for high-tech applications. High-tech textiles must fulfill a number of functions and meet many requirements. That is why the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC dedicated some major developing work to this most intriguing research area. The result can now be seen at Techtextil trade show in Frankfurt from 4 to 7 May. On display will be novel textile-integrated sensors, a unique multifunctional coating system for textiles and fibers, and textile processing of glass, carbon, and ceramics fibers to fiber preforms.
Thin materials and new kinds of sensors now make it possible to integrate silicone elastomer sensors in textiles. They are suitable for applications in medical...
KAIST researchers published an article on the development of a novel technique to precisely track the 3-D positions of optically-trapped particles having complicated geometry in high speed in the April 2015 issue of Optica.
Daejeon, Republic of Korea, April 23, 2015--Optical tweezers have been used as an invaluable tool for exerting micro-scale force on microscopic particles and...
A very small and rare species of shark is swimming its way through scientific literature. But don't worry, the chances of this inches-long vertebrate biting...
23.04.2015 | Event News
23.04.2015 | Event News
13.04.2015 | Event News
30.04.2015 | Earth Sciences
30.04.2015 | Life Sciences
30.04.2015 | Press release